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How Sports Prevent Opiate Abuse in Teenagers

August 24, 2016


Participating in athletic activities is constructive to many important aspects of a teenager’s life. Teens who play sports experience not only physical benefits, such as improved endurance and bone development, but also mental health benefits. Sports are known to improve mood, concentration and self-esteem, and they can even reduce stress and depression. Recently, research has found yet another reason for teens to engage in athleticism: it was found that adolescents who regularly exercise or play sports are less likely to use heroin or non-medical prescription opioids than those who don’t.  

Opiate Abuse Less Likely Among Teen Athletes 

A study published in Pediatrics concluded that, “daily participation in sports and exercise may serve as a protective factor with respect to nonmedical prescription opioid use and heroin use.” The research linked daily involvement in sports or exercise with a 26% reduced risk of lifetime nonmedical prescription opioid use and a 34% lower risk of lifetime heroin use. Even weekly involvement helps, causing a 14% reduced risk in lifetime heroin or nonmedical prescription opioid use. 

The study’s author, Philip Veliz, suggests that the physical and social benefits brought about by sports might keep teens from misusing opioids. Also, teen athletes not only have their parents and teachers around, but their coaches or instructors as well. These positive adult role models offer teens mentorship and guidance, and they allow for more constant supervision. That being said, it is still crucial to be mindful of the dangers of opioid use

Teen Athletes Still Need to Be Monitored 

Athletes–particularly those who participate in high contact sports like football, soccer and hockey–are more susceptible to injury. This may put them at risk for misusing prescription medications intended to manage pain (such as morphine, codeine, Demerol, Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet). When such injuries present themselves, parents should know the signs of substance abuse and be open with their child’s doctor, expressing any concerns they may have. 

Teenage athletes who are prescribed opioids should be informed and monitored, because opiate use during adolescence could lead to long-term opiate abuse. In fact, research has shown that high school students who do use prescription opioids are 33% more likely to misuse such drugs after they graduate. The best approach to curbing prescription opiate abuse is to be upfront with teens, openly discussing the threats that these drugs pose. 

Encouraging Extracurricular Activities

It may seem difficult to persuade teenagers to engage in physical activity, but it is actually not a far-fetched endeavor. Sports participation among high school students is growing. The number of participants has been steadily increasing over the past 26 years, with the 2014-2015 mark at over 7.8 million students. Extracurricular activities of any kind should always be encouraged. Being a part of a club, church or other after-school recreation gives teens positive role models and peers while keeping them busy with wholesome interests. By encouraging healthy habits during adolescence, parents could be protecting their children from opiate abuse for a lifetime. 

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